“We do well to unplug regularly. Quiet time restores our focus and composure.”
– Daniel Goleman
Eastern Slope of the Cascade Mountains
I intended to blog about our off the grid adventures immediately following our vacation – diving back into my workflows initially delayed my posting it. Then, I forgot it was languishing in the drafts folder. Here goes!
I planned for Larry and me to vacation in the mountains this fall. I found a tiny house in the Okanogan – Wenatchee National Forest near a small mountain town named Plain. Larry had no idea of our vacation destination – he allowed me to surprise him. Initially I found a cool yurt on Airbnb in Northern Idaho. After discussing my excitement about vacationing in the natural beauty of the Gem State’s panhandle with my boss, she in an alarmed tone suggested I not do that. After directing me to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hate Map, I learned Northern Idaho is ground zero for some of the America’s most notorious hate groups. The interactive map did not reveal one or two hate groups – there were several of them with a presence in the northern part of the Land of Famous Potatoes. I canceled my Airbnb rental, absorbed the cancellation fee, and without a shred of regret looked elsewhere. My boss’s concerns and the details from the Hate Map were later corroborated by a Northern Idaho native who now leaves in Seattle with her husband.
Off the Grid – A Tired Cliché?
Admittedly, I was an individual who considered those “going off the grid” as self-important wordsmiths. They are trying to make themselves sound so free and adventurous, I would judge. I had no acceptable reason to hold the phrase off the grid in contempt. In hindsight I better understand the reasons – I was ignorant to the meaning of off the grid and found intolerable the displeasure of being among those who never went off the grid. Given my love for hiking and being outdoors, I found my off the grid virginity as punishable by means of unnecessarily being my own worst critic. How silly and cynical of me, right?
I have learned along my journey of better contextualizing absolutes that different things have different meanings for different people – and it is okay! Off the grid for some connotes a complete separation from work emails for a predetermined time period. Use of iPhones, LTE cellphone service, and digital cameras is allowed. For others, no electronics are tolerated – yet lodging in modern accommodations is non-negotiable. For others still, camping along a multi-day hiking trail is the only true way to go off the grid, yet bringing along REI’s state of the art outdoorsy gadgets is simply commonsense.
I say all that to say, my concerns about being clichéd in discussing and embracing our version of being off the grid was an exercise in being unnecessarily dramatic – a waste of words, emotions, and time. In our Vensey Manifesto, Larry and I committed to each other that we will illustrate of union at our own pace in our own way. Going off the grid only two hours east of an American megalopolis is just as authentic as driving into the wilderness of Montana then hiking another cool-sounding number of miles to a spot that would serve as our campground. While there is nothing wrong with that approach, it is not suitable for us at this moment.
First Vacation as Residents of Cascadia
Larry and I needed a break from our constantly hustling and bustling as members of the American workforce. Embarrassingly, he and I do not take off as much time as we should. We are not intentionally avoiding vacationing – it is something that seems easily forgotten while moving through day to day activities. Weekends are extremely inadequate in offering an appreciable amount of downtime, given non-work related duties are shoved into the 48-hour period.
To-dos that are not completed during the weekend are rolled into the next weekend, and the next, and the following four, until six months have passed without a realistic amount of downtime ever being achieved. Complaining? Pretty language describing laziness? Lacking an understanding of what entails hard work? Sure, if you are one of those self-loathing, self-congratulatory workaholics with neither an admirable personal life nor a modicum of creativity. Not so much if you are realistic in how much of your waking hours should be purely devoted to working – thus seeing the benefits accrued to your overall health, spousal commitment, and professional performance if you simply take a full and complete break on a routine basis. “Being busy” is no longer an admirable characteristic, if it ever where. I blog about this here.
Larry and I are not those individuals who think taking time off is a sign of weakness or lack of commitment to our careers. Our personal and professional experiences show vacationing as the complete opposite of goal-reaching flakiness. Once touted as a positive attribute, being a workaholic at the worst or one practicing weisure at the least, “always being on” has assumed nowadays an association that is more accurate and far less flattering – shortsighted, clichéd, and void of imagination.
Clearly this description does not fit everyone, yet enough people. This is not to say one should strategically skirt his or personal and/or professional responsibilities in the name of self-care. In a society like ours, Americans spend far more time working than any other industrialized nation. One article I read a while back – obviously not the sole opinion leader regarding this matter – suggested Americans cram 31 hours of productivity into a 24-hour period. Insane, right?
So, in an effort to instill more downtime and self-care into our routine we packed up the Volvo – pups in tow – and scurried away from the Pacific Northwest’s largest city for the Cascade Range. Landing 114 miles east of Seattle on the eastern slope, we spent six days in a newly built tiny house. No TV. No work email. I sent one text message. No Facebook. No Twitter. No other forms of social media. No other means of consuming news or modern day entertainment.
Larry and I ate organically grown foods. We imbibed organically made apple cider. Zeke and Coco ran leash-free in the vast outdoors. We consumed the most flavorful brats we have ever tasted in a German inspired restaurant name München Has. We took amazingly picturesque road trips to trailheads near and far from our rented tiny house. I devoured the largest pretzel I have ever seen. We hiked seven trails – clocking 37.98 miles and burning 30,000 calories in doing so.
Given my budding interests in photography – I remain a point-and-shoot camera novice – I took approximately 900 photos. Our hikes probably took 20 to 30% longer than they should have; which is meaningless given we were not on a schedule. Fall Foliage. Mountainsides. Our dogs, Zeke and Coco. Candid shots of Larry. Couples Selfies. Trail signage. Road Signage. Orchards. Fog. Gravel roads. The Wenatchee River. Creeks. Worn trail paths. The list of things I found picture worthy goes onward.
Trails, Trails, and More Trails
As you know, I am an avid users of the AllTrails app. Fellow users offer insightful reviews of trails. The app developers have created cool maps of the trail as well. It is easy to use and works even if there is no cellphone reception. You are able to upload your own pictures for others to view. The coordinates of the trailheads are accurate nearly 100% of the time.
We hiked seven trails – Lake Wenatchee Trail, Ski Hill Trail, Devil’s Spur, Icicle Ridge Trail, Dusty lake Trail, Merritt Lake Trail, and Deception Creek Trail. We attempted to hike Sauer’s Mountain yet posted signage stating the path was closed deterred us.
To read about my experiences on these trails and others Larry, the dogs, and I have trekked; visit the Hiking Stories section of my blog. If I have not blogged about the abovementioned trails by the time you read this piece, I will in the near future.
As we drove along US Highway 2 West toward Seattle, I felt lighter, fresher, and readier. My knees, quads, calves, and glutes were sore. My thinking, eyesight, and breathing habits felt renewed. Our dogs – particularly Zeke – were dusty and exhausted. Larry was contemplative and grateful. The Volvo was muddier. With roughly 36 hours of cushy reentry time, we spent the waning hours of our fall vacation relaxing in our apartment and basking in the endorphins resulting from our having gone off the grid.